In a speech of a little over half-an-hour after Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett had presented his incoming government to the Knesset on June 13, outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out his achievements in office, bitterly attacked Bennett and his incoming colleagues, lambasted US handling of Iran’s nuclear threat, and vowed to lead the battle to oust the new coalition and quickly return to power. What follows is a full, unofficial English translation of his address:
President of the state Reuven Rivlin, incoming President Isaac Herzog, Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut, members of Knesset, notables, Mr. Speaker:
I stand here in the name of millions of citizens who have chosen to stand tall and not to bow their heads. I stand here as an elected public servant backed by a million Israeli citizens who voted for the Likud, headed by me, and another million citizens who voted for right-wing parties, knowing that they would be part of a government headed by me.
Thanks to them, and on their behalf, I intend to continue performing the great mission of my life: guaranteeing the existence, the security and the prosperity of the State of Israel. I was given this mission, with boundless commitment to the Land of Israel, in my parents’ home. As a fighter and commander in [the elite IDF unit] Sayeret Matkal, I embarked on many missions behind enemy lines. In a firefight in the Suez Canal, I nearly lost my life. In another battle, I was wounded during the hostilities to release the hostages from the Sabena flight.
In every public role, as the Israeli minister in Washington, as the Israeli ambassador to the UN, as the foreign minister, as the finance minister, as the defense minister, and as the prime minister of Israel for more than 15 years, I have had the privilege of acting night and day, simple as that, night and day, for our beloved country.
Together with my friends in the Likud and my partners on the right, we have turned Israel into a world power and in many respects, a superpower. We’ve done this not by surrendering to international pressure, not out of weakness. We did this by standing firm, out of power. In fact, by nurturing our power, our economic and technological, our diplomatic and security power, of the State of Israel. And this combined power has brought tremendous achievements for Israel that we have never had before.
Just recently, we brought millions of vaccines to Israel. There are some people who say that we brought them with ‘obsessiveness’ for the health and the lives of Israel’s citizens. We were able to do it because we had a special status. We were the first country in the world to get out of the coronavirus, while many other countries, very many other countries, are still under closures and restrictions.
We turned Israel into a free economy. So many reforms. And we turned it into one of the 20 wealthiest economies in the world, with our GDP per capita surpassing Britain, Japan and France.
We have reduced inequality, in complete contrast to what you hear; the inequality metric, we brought it to its lowest rate for decades. By the way, there’s no contradiction between these two things.
Above all this, we fought with determination against Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, even when we had to stand alone, completely alone, against the whole world and many in Israel. Our determination [in this regard] influenced the previous American administration to leave the dangerous nuclear deal. And it also influenced many new Arab countries to see us as a regional shield against Iranian aggression that also threatens them. With four of these states, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, we forged historic peace agreements, the Abraham Accords.
With these agreements, we changed the dangerous old doctrine of ‘land for peace’ and brought ‘peace for peace’ — real peace, economic peace, without giving up an inch [of territory], without uprooting a single Jew from his home.
We brought American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the relocation of the American embassy to [the city], the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights, and a change in the policy regarding the legality of the settlements in Judea and Samaria
I can tell you that this achievement was not easy. Before that, for years, we had to repel very heavy pressures for withdrawals, pressures that no other prime minister in Israel and no government faced, and if we’d done this [territorial withdrawal], we would have brought a curse to the settlement project and very great danger to Israel. But instead of this, instead of this, we brought American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the relocation of the American embassy to [the city], the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights, and a change in the policy regarding the legality of the settlements in Judea and Samaria.
We developed special relations with Russia — not just with Russia as a state, but also nurtured a direct, close line with the president of Russia. And in so doing, we guaranteed the freedom of maneuver of the Israeli Air Force in the skies of Syria, in order to prevent Iranian entrenchment on our northern border. And yes, we also brought Zecharia Baumel of blessed memory, who was killed in the battle of Sultan Yacoub, to burial in Israel.
In complete opposition to the mocking prophecies of the left about our regional diplomatic isolation and a diplomatic tsunami, the systematic cultivation of our economic and military might –it’s not here and there, but systematic, for years — this systematic cultivation led to unprecedented diplomatic flourishing with many states who want to be close to us.
We have forged alliances and new agreements with countries in Africa, in Eastern Europe, in Asia, in Latin America; huge countries like India, Japan, Brazil; Eastern Mediterranean countries like Greece and Cyprus.
Not just in foreign policy, but also inside the country itself, we made amazing changes. We brought down taxes, we encouraged competition, we removed many of the restrictions and monopolies that had been strangling our economy since the establishment of the state. And you can all see the change. You can see the skyscrapers, the stadia, malls, industrial parks, innumerable new neighborhoods, cranes everywhere. We connected the periphery to the center, with roads, trains, tunnels, overpasses, with bridges.
I have to tell you, when I visit Dimona, Yeruham, Yokneam, Kiryat Shmona, I can see the incredible pride of the residents there because of the extraordinary development, that didn’t happen in the days when our predecessors [were in power]. The towers rising upwards, the commercial centers, Italian restaurants in the periphery.
Once we called them, there are still people who call them, though I never called them this, called them condescendingly ‘second Israel’. We are canceling this, and we must never go back.
And we brought down unemployment. We raised the minimum wage. We set up a fire-fighting air squadron that put out hundreds of huge fires, including right now, just outside Jerusalem, and saved many lives.
We stood against waves of populism, perhaps the biggest of which was when we got the gas out of the water [offshore], and turned Israel for the first time into an energy superpower that is exporting gas to Egypt and Jordan, and in future also to Europe. Not to mention the huge funds this is putting into the country’s coffers.
We rehabilitated heritage sites across Israel. Yigal Allon was right: A nation that doesn’t remember its past, where will it get to? We made a huge investment in this over the years.
We implemented a policy of open skies, and then we broke records in tourism.
We invested 21 billion shekels in Arab society … in order to integrate all citizens of Israel into the Israeli success story
For 11 years, and not in a handful of meetings with this or that Knesset member, for 11 years, we invested in Arab society in Israel, in infrastructure, in education, in health, in nine police stations when previously there was one, [investing a total of] some 21 billion shekels, more than all Israeli governments put together. And we did this in order to integrate all citizens of Israel into the Israeli success story.
We transformed Israeli into a cyber power. We built a fence, an obstacle, on the Sinai border, which blocked a flood of illegal infiltrators from Africa. I think maybe a million. Something that would have completely obliterated the very idea of a Jewish democratic state. It would have simply been abolished.
And we also built an underground obstacle that blocked Hamas’s terror tunnels towards the Gaza envelope area. Unlike the blood-soaked years, the blood-soaked years before [our time in power], in which we were washed over by unending waves of terrorism, we brought the safest decade we’ve ever had.
The statistics don’t lie. Fewer soldiers and civilians have been hurt in the previous 10 years than in any other decade since the establishment of the state. What did we have before then? Buses blowing up. Restaurants blowing up. Today, to my delight, we have restaurants that are bursting with diners, with people who are enjoying themselves, without any fear.
And now I want to emphasize again, none of this happened by chance, by coincidence. This happened because we led a different security policy, an assertive policy, with deterrents and wisdom, that has claimed a very heavy price from our enemies, and nevertheless, this is important, has refrained from impulsivity and hastiness.
Our achievements have transformed Israel from a marginal state into a rising force on the world stage
Make no mistake, this was a very daring policy. We have carried out daring operations deep in enemy soil, including bringing out Iran’s secret atomic archives from the heart of Tehran, and other operations that surpass any imagination. This is the place I want to thank the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad, the police, who do God’s work in preserving Israel’s security.
Members of Knesset, our achievements have transformed Israel from a marginal state into a rising force on the world stage. This is our path, my path, and that of my partners in the national camp, my friends on the genuine right. And if it is fated that we must be in opposition, we shall do so with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country in our own way.
Today, this is more necessary than ever, in light of the three mighty challenges that we face. The first challenge: Iran. It’s not a secret that the United States plans very soon to return to the dangerous agreement which my colleagues and I utterly oppose.
The new American administration asked me to keep our disagreements on the nuclear matter behind closed doors and not to make them public. I told them I would not do so
I heard what Naftali Bennett said on this matter, and now I am infinitely more worried, because Bennett always does the opposite of what he says, of what he promises. He’ll fight Iran like he won’t sit with Yair Lapid and Mansour Abbas and Labor and Meretz.
I want to tell you, the American administration asked me not to give public expression to our disagreements on these matters. We have disagreements. They asked us to keep them behind closed doors. But with all due respect to our greatest friends, and to my old friend of 40 years, President Joe Biden…
(Netanyahu pauses as heckling MKs are removed from the chamber.)
The new American administration asked me to keep our disagreements on the nuclear matter behind closed doors and not to make them public. I told them I would not do so, and I’ll tell you why. Because the lessons of history are in front of my eyes. In 1944, at the height of the Holocaust, US President Franklin Roosevelt refused to bomb the iron railway tracks leading to the extermination camps, and refused to bomb the gas chambers, which could have saved millions of our people. We hoped for salvation from others, and it didn’t come. In the face of the threat of extermination, we were helpless. Our voice was not heard among the nations. We had neither a state nor an army.
But today we do have a voice. We do have a state. And we do have protective power. And therefore, I told the US Defense Secretary Austin who visited here a few weeks ago, quote, ”As the prime minister of Israel, I will do everything to oppose an agreement that will lead to the nuclear armament of Iran. And we will show our opposition the agreement that you are proposing, both publicly and operationally.”
And I added something else to him. I’ll share it with you. I said that even though I hope, I hope very much, that we won’t get to this, if I have to choose between tension between us and eliminating the existential threat to Israel, then eliminating the threat takes precedence, with an agreement or without an agreement.
An Israeli prime minister must be able to say no to the president of the United States on matters that endanger our existence
Unfortunately, I heard Bennett, unfortunately, he doesn’t have the international standing. He doesn’t have the credibility. He doesn’t have the ability. He doesn’t have the knowledge. Above all, he doesn’t have a government, and he doesn’t have the word that would enable him to present real opposition. And of all the differences, of which there are many, between us and the incoming government, this is the most important and fateful difference for the future of Israel.
An Israeli prime minister must be able to say no to the president of the United States on matters that endanger our existence, and to back this up with massive work in Congress, in the Senate, and in public opinion, in the greatest democracy, which is the United States.
That is what I did in 2015, when I spoke in the US Congress despite the fierce opposition of the president of the United States. Who will do this now? Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who attacked my speech in Congress? Because most members of the intended government support the nuclear agreement, whether they say so or not. No matter what they say here. They do not want and they are not able to stand up to the United States.
Listen closely to what I’m about to say. I’ll be pleased to be proved wrong, but I won’t be. I’m telling you, from the moment the United States returns to the nuclear deal with Iran, the incoming government will not authorize meaningful operations inside Iran in order to prevent its continued armament. At most, the members of the government will make a few limp remarks for protocol, or say a few meaningless things behind the scenes. That has no value. It’s like glasses of wind for the dead. No value.
A government that is incapable of standing up forcefully against the international community on matters that are fateful for us is not worthy of leading Israel even for a single day. That is the incoming government.
Iran is celebrating because it understands that from today there will be a weak and limp government in Israel that will align itself with the dictates of the international community
Iran understands this, too. No wonder they’re celebrating there today. They know that were it not for the efforts that we led, Iran would have had an arsenal of nuclear weapons long ago with the objective of eliminating us. Iran is celebrating because it understands that from today there will be a weak and limp government in Israel that will align itself with the dictates of the international community.
So I have a message. I have a message for those who are rejoicing in Tehran, and for their acolytes in Hezbollah and Hamas: the opposition in Israel will have a clear and strong voice. And I have another message for them, no less important: We’ll be back, soon. We’ll be back, soon.
Besides Iran, the second challenge facing us is to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state that will threaten our existence. The new administration in the United States is already resuming its efforts in this regard. It is already demanding a settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria, a construction freeze in the new Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
I received a request that I rejected forcefully about building in Arnona or in Givat Hamatos.
And [the administration is planning] the reopening of the US consulate for the Palestinians in the heart of our capital, which will put the division of Jerusalem back on the agenda. I told our American friends, “You want to set up the consulate? Set it up, in Abu Dis, not in sovereign Jerusalem.”
The intended government will not say this, and if it does, it will not insist on it. As with the nuclear issue, in the best case, its members from the so-called right might put out a few limp tweets for the protocol in another effort to defraud right-wing voters as they did in the last elections. Because for them, it’s all spin.
For them, the spin, the words, are everything. But there is no action.
How will we defend the settlements, when most members of the intended government support the uprooting of settlements?
I ask, how will we defend the settlements, when most members of the intended government support the uprooting of settlements? How will we defend soldiers from the accusations in The Hague when a senior minister supports The Hague? How will we prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state when the overwhelming majority of the intended government supports its establishment?
The third challenge facing us is the economy. My friends, thanks to the dozens of reforms of the free economy that we enacted and the quick exit from the coronavirus, we are handing you an economy today in fantastic shape, better than most economies in the world. We’ve shrunk the deficit, we’ve reduced unemployment, we’ve restored growth.
But from past experience, and I have such experience — you know that I’ve made two comebacks from the opposition, two comebacks –from past experience, every time we come back into power, we have to fix the damage done by previous governments. In your case, it will be shatnez economic damage of socialism, populism and opportunism. On the other hand, I must say, it’s not all black, there may be hope, because you have a clean-handed finance minister above reproach, who will surely operate only in the national interest.
(Hecklers refer to Netanyahu’s corruption trial.)
Don’t make me laugh. You’re all watching this joke of a trial. Everything’s collapsing there. You can see there was nothing [in the charges against me] and there will be nothing.
But I have one request. One request, just one. I have just one modest request in the name of all my friends here: Try to ruin the wonderful economy we are placing in your hands as little as possible, so that we can fix it as quickly as possible when we return to power.
How can you place confidence in someone who defrauded his voters?
Members of Knesset, we’ve just heard from Naftali Bennett the request to place confidence in the intended government. But how can you place confidence in someone who defrauded his voters, a fraud that has never been seen in the history of the state? Throughout all the rounds of elections, Bennett promised time and again that he wouldn’t sit with the left and Ra’am.
On the eve of the election, he looked directly into the camera and promised: ‘Under no circumstances will I lend my hand to the formation of a government headed by Yair Lapid — not in a regular fashion, not via rotation, not via any other method, for the simple reason that I am a man of the right and he is of the left. I will not act against my values. I keep my promises.’
It was about this that the poets of the Psalms said, Their mouths are full of lies; they promise the truth but lie instead. And you know the contemporary song, ‘Nice words, without any cover. Promises, without any backup. And the end, always, is hopeless.’ What, you don’t know it?
If Bennett’s voters had known of the deal he’d closed with Lapid even before the election, he wouldn’t have cleared the electoral threshold and he also wouldn’t be with us here today in the Knesset.
I need to make something clear, so there’s no mistake. In the last elections — for a change — the vote count was kosher. But the votes were misused in the fraud of the century. Bennett led astray hundreds of thousands of right-wing voters and transferred their votes from the right to the left. Bennett is relying on the public forgetting, but the public will not forget this huge fraudulent trick, and it will settle accounts with him and with his friends at the ballot box.
The media, of course, will compliment him, and build him up, flatter him, and everyone around them, because they know the simple truth: Bennett and his friends are fake right, and the public knows this too. Fake right.
But there is one righteous man in this Sodom, Knesset member Amichai Chikli. He is the only MK, the only one from among the fake right, who remains loyal to his principles and to voters’ wishes. He isn’t the defector. You, members of Yamina, you are the defectors.
Now, I heard the excuses; they were very interesting. I heard Bennett justifying this defection by saying that the cycle of Knesset elections had to be brought to an end. But if you really wanted to prevent repeat elections for the Knesset, why did you oppose, so forcefully, direct elections for prime minister, which would have brought an end to this political deadlock without dissolving the Knesset? Because you know perfectly well that in direct elections I would destroy every one of you. You’re the ones who put Israel into a dizzying political cycle for generations by deciding for the first time that someone who has six seats can be prime minister of Israel. A prime minister standing on the head of a pin. This will have to be fixed. It won’t be easy.
You talk about change. You’re saying that this government reflects the will of the people for a change of leadership. But all the polls, including one yesterday, without exception, show time and again, that most of the public wants me as prime minister and doesn’t want you.
You call yourselves guardians of democracy, but you’re so afraid of democracy, that you’re willing to pass fascist, anti-democratic laws against my candidacy. You’re prepared to pass laws in the style of North Korea, Syria and Iran against my candidacy, just as these countries, these dictatorships, block candidates who could endanger the regime. While I’m fighting against Iran, you’re bringing laws from Iran.
You talk about healing? Two million citizens who voted for the right are a sickness to you? Apparently so
You’re full of high talk about national unity, but a party that excludes 53 seats from the true right isn’t [one of] national unity. It’s the unity of vote-stealing and misrepresentation, a government of Ra’anana Marana, comprising extreme left, extreme opportunism, supported by extreme Islam.
You talk about healing? Two million citizens who voted for the right are a sickness to you? Apparently so, because your finance minister said the Haredim should be thrown into a wheelbarrow and dumped at the garbage tip.
And of course, an important, very important, very important observation in the climate of the one-sided political correctness, of course, those remarks by the finance minister, that’s not incitement. That’s not incitement. As far as you’re concerned, criticism from the right is always incitement, even when there isn’t a hint of violence. Whereas incitement from the left, about sending people to the garbage dump, and the hangman’s noose, and guillotines, oh, that’s always freedom of speech.
Ladies and gentlemen, this won’t help you. You will not silence Likud voters, Shas voters, United Torah Judaism voters, Religious Zionism voters. You will not silence the defrauded voters of Yamina, and you also will not silence me.
For 25 years, my family and I have been subjected to a witch hunt of persecution, denigration, incitement, lies and humiliations, the likes of which has never been seen before. All so that I would bow, submit and surrender to the left. Endless times, I could have done like many of my predecessors and surrendered to the pressure, uprooted settlements, and won applause in the news studios that are so ridiculously mobilized for the left.
I am acting in the name of a giant public, of millions of citizens, as the faithful servant of an ancient people with millennia of history, which seeks to sit in security and tranquility on its land, the Land of Israel
I could have been crowned by the propaganda channels as the good and beneficent father. But for 25 years, I did not surrender, because I am acting in the name of a giant public, of millions of citizens, as the faithful servant of an ancient people with millennia of history, which seeks to sit in security and tranquility on its land, the Land of Israel.
To my friends here in the Knesset, and to the masses of citizens in Israel, I say to you today, do not be downhearted. Stand tall. We will continue to work together for our beloved state.
I will lead you in a daily battle against this bad, dangerous, left-wing government, to topple it. And with God’s help, that will happen much sooner than you think.
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